If we are to believe our government leaders, the sudden resignation of Thomas Zuniga as executive director of the D.C. Housing Finance Agency (HFA) was a career advancement and not the embarrassing ouster that it appeared to be.

Malcolm Peabody, a member of the HFA board, explained that Zuniga had recently been considering "some very good offers" of employment elsewhere. "That's probably one reason he's resigning," Peabody said.

Another, more plausible, reason is that the FBI and the D.C. auditor's office are looking into allegations that Zuniga used an agency credit card to charge $2,500 of personal expenses, including airline tickets for his children.

Perhaps it is too much to expect the city to level with the public about important personnel changes that reflect badly on the District government.

When Mayor Marion Barry was asked at his Jan. 16 news conference whether he would ask for Zuniga's resignation, he replied that it was a matter to be left to the semi-independent HFA board. Then he piously lectured reporters about the evils of trying public officials in the press.

The HFA board members weren't any better.

Under mounting pressure from the City Council and others concerned about protecting the integrity of the HFA -- which subsidizes housing for low- and middle-income residents through the marketing of municipal bonds -- board members held a two-hour closed door session with Zuniga Jan. 17. They emerged to announce that Zuniga had made restitution of his personal charges and that they were satisfied.

"The board has not asked for Mr. Zuniga's resignation, and Mr. Zuniga has not submitted his resignation to the board of directors," the board said in a formal statement.

But during that weekend -- one crowded with inaugural activities and the Super Bowl -- the board issued a statement that, lo and behold, Zuniga had resigned after all.

In this, as in other unpleasant personnel issues, the city chose to try to sweep the matter under the rug.

There has yet to be a full official explanation of Zuniga's possible misuse of the agency's credit card. Was it intentional or a mistake? If it was intentional, then how could the HFA board justify allowing Zuniga to stay on, even if he did make full restitution? Were there other problems that turned up in the board's review?

City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairman of the Housing and Community Development Committee, has asked D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe to examine the agency's expenditures to determine if the funds are being spent properly.

And one other thing. A woman who lost her job as the HFA's office administrator last year contends in a lawsuit that she was fired after she questioned Zuniga's expenses. If this is true, then it raises additional disturbing questions about the way HFA handles its affairs.

Gladys Mack, the former city budget director and now head of the mayor's office of policy and program evaluation, may be headed for yet another assignment.

Barry has let it be known he has plans to move Mack into a new slot -- perhaps as a chief of staff or some other senior-level assignment in the executive suite on the fifth floor of the District Building.

Mack already has taken on additional responsibilities. She is the city's representative on the Metro Board and recently was elevated to board chairman -- the first time a woman has held that post.